Days after losing father, Pooja Rani braces up for Strandja Memorial

Pooja Rani is all set for her first competitive outing of the season - the prestigious Strandja Memorial Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Pooja Rani is training at the national camp in New Delhi and gearing up for the Strandja Memorial boxing tournament.   -  M. Moorthy

Life changed in a matter of days for two-time Asian champion and Olympian Pooja Rani. Her father passed away less than a week after her brother’s wedding.

But the national champion is back in training here and is all set for her first competitive outing of the season as well - the prestigious Strandja Memorial Tournament, which starts on February 18 in Sofia, Bulgaria. “I got back to the national camp just yesterday,” the 81kg category boxer told PTI.

Pooja has had problems occurring at inopportune moments. A career-threatening shoulder injury some years ago and burnt hands just before a major tournament bear testimony to Pooja’s struggles.

‘Biggest inspiration’

But this hurts more than anything she has endured so far. The death of her father Rajbir Singh, a retired inspector in Haryana Police, is a crushing blow as he was her biggest inspiration despite being opposed to her career as a boxer when she started.

“He was my biggest inspiration. I was very close to him. It happened five days after my brother’s wedding last month, I had come back to the camp and suddenly around 3 in the morning (on February 1), I was told he died of a heart failure, I rushed home,” she recalled before going quiet, unable to revisit the trauma beyond this.

“When I was coming back to the camp after my brother’s wedding, he made a victory sign to see me off, I can’t get that out of my mind. I keep thinking of about it. It’s like I am stuck in that moment,” she said.

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But life goes on and the boxer from Bhiwani is hoping to perform well at the Strandja Memorial. “Whether I won or lost, all he tried to do was to make me happy. He opposed my love for boxing when I started but once he got around, he was like a pillar, with me through every triumph and every disappointment. I hope I can make him proud. I have had very little time to train amid all that has happened but I am hopeful of doing well in Strandja,” she said.

The tournament, which is the European season-opener, will feature both male and female boxers. The Indian women’s team will consist entirely of the reigning national champions.

Male Tokyo Olympians to skip Strandja Memorial

The men’s team is also going to be primarily represented by national champions which means that the five who competed in Tokyo Olympics would be waiting for some more time before getting back in action. Amit Panghal (51kg), Vikas Krishan (69kg), Manish Kaushik (63.5kg), Ashish Chaudhary (75kg), and Satish Kumar (+91kg) have been training at the national camp in Patiala for the past three weeks but are yet to be competition ready in terms of fitness.

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“They will have to skip this one. The fitness levels are not yet what they should be given that they did not compete after Tokyo and resumed training less than a month back,” a Boxing Federation of India source told PTI.

Among the national champions who would miss the event are Shiva Thapa (63.5kg), who twisted his ankle some weeks back, Sanjeet (91kg), who is now nursing a shoulder injury, and world championship bronze-winner Akash (54kg).

The two teams are due to leave on February 17 after undergoing pre-departure COVID-19 tests.

The Squads
  • Men: Govind (48kg), Ankit (51kg), Rajpinder Singh (54kg), Rohit Mor (57kg), Varinder Singh (60kg), Dalvir Singh (63.5kg), Akash (67kg), Rohit Tokas (71kg), Sumit (75kg), Sachin Kumar (81kg), Lakshya Chahar (86kg), Gaurav Chauhan (91kg), Narender (+91kg)
  • Women: Nitu (48kg), Anamika (50kg), Nikhat Zareen (52kg), Shiksha (54kg). Sonia Lather (57kg), Meena Rani (60kg), parveen (63kg), Anjali Tushir (66kg), Arundhati Chaudhary (71kg), Saweety (75kg), Pooja Rani (81kg), Nandini (+81kg).

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